In his new play "The Trial of Trayvon Martin," set to open April 6 in the Manny Fried Playhouse, Buffalo playwright Gary Earl Ross poses a simple question with a damning answer:
What would have happened on Feb. 26, 2012 if the roles of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, whose deadly confrontation that evening helped to fuel a new movement for racial justice in America, had been switched?
"Would Martin have been released because there was nothing to contradict his story?" Ross asked. "Or would he have been held until they found something to contradict his story?"
Given what we know about the skewed application of justice in Florida and the rising tide of racist rhetoric across the United States, the likely answer is not hard to guess.
And that's why Ross set out to write this play, the third in the Subversive Theatre Collective's "Black Power Play Series." The larger question he poses to audiences is why they should tacitly accept a system that treats criminal suspects, defendants and victims differently based on the color of their skin.
Ross, known for his mystery novels, thrillers and courtroom dramas, based the play on a story he wrote shortly after a jury acquitted Zimmerman for his role in Martin's death. It was a verdict that surprised even many observers of Florida's famously flawed criminal justice system. That includes Ross, whose son is a Florida police officer.
"I thought, there's no way he can get an acquittal on this, because from everything I've read, George Zimmerman instigated this whole thing by following the child," Ross said. "I went through 911 transcripts, I went through trial transcripts and articles about the trial. It seems to me that it probably shouldn't have been second-degree murder, it should have been manslaughter."
But would even that have resulted in a conviction? There's no way to know. So Ross applied his knowledge of the justice system and its history of shortchanging black men, to this hypothetical situation.
The result, he suggested, is as much an indictment of the criminal justice system as it is of the insidiousness of American racism.
"They charge more children as adults, they don't keep track of who owns firearms, and it just struck me that we have a convergence of gun culture, racism and the unequal criminal justice system," Ross said. "There's a level of subconscious racism that exists in America, and part of what I hope I'm doing in this play is pointing it out."
What: "The Trial of Trayvon Martin"
Where: Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave.
When: April 6 to May 6
Tickets: $25 to $30
Info: 408-0499 or subversivetheatre.org